Altheide and Snow (1979) were the first to use the term “media logic” to identify the specific frame of reference of the production of media culture in general and of the news in particular. They define media logic as a way of seeing and interpreting social affairs.
Elements of this form of communication include the various media and the formats used by them. Formats consist, in part, in how material is organized, the style in which it is presented, the focus or emphasis, and the grammar of media communication (Altheide & Snow 1991). The underlying idea is that of a dominant form, a representation of reality, and content definitions to which media producers conform. By identifying these “formats” it is possible to better understand what lies behind the process of media production. According to Altheide (1985), formats are also relevant to issues of the social influence of the media, for they affect the perception of reality acquired from the media.
The production processes of media raw materials normally imply a certain extent of standardization, reflecting the goals, traditions, and routines of a given media organizations and an adaptation to the demands of the audiences. Media organizations maintain a set of specifications, which may be economic, technological, and cultural, to assure that content produced and distributed responds to efficiency criteria. The term “media logic” captures the whole of such processes that eventually shape and frame media content.
The mass media institutions, either public or private, have their own specific nature that distinguishes them from other institutions that produce culture. Public media outlets implement a logic that reflects the statutes of these institutions that cater to the general interest. Private-run media respond chiefly to industrial and commercial imperatives and implement logics that reflect corporate goals and audience tastes and expectations. From this stems a mixed approach by media organizations to political events. For example, public service broadcast media are more likely to give space to a plurality of voices and to represent a plurality of views. However, at the same time, they cannot avoid packaging political news in appealing formats or yielding to a certain degree of sensationalism, amplifying certain personal traits of political leaders, or making some editorial inroads into the political arena. “Infotainment” programs run by public broadcasting organizations around the world are just one example of this response to “media logics.”
The commercial news media have no obligation to present a pluralist and fair treatment of politics, and typically privilege the “populist” dimensions and features in the production processes of political stories. Furthermore, commercial media usually seek the sensational in the news-gathering process, and events lacking spectacular or uncommon features tend to be ignored. They rather adopt a style of political narrative that emphasizes personalities and penalizes ideas, oversimplify complex issues, focus on confrontation rather than on compromise, and show preference for what has been called the “game schema” or the “horse race” aspects of political life and election campaigns.
The concept of “media logic” is also closely linked to the issues of bias and frames in media content insofar as industrial, cultural, or political pressures contribute to mold the specific character of the product placed on the market. In fact, this concept – often overlapping with that of commercial logic – has been particularly useful to illustrate and explain the process of “news production.” The classical routines of news gathering, selection, and presentation are geared to implement this (commercial) logic in the construction of reality worked out by the news industry.
Journalists are driven by organizational and industrial goals and implement the professional values, norms, and practices of the news organization. Certain issues, topics, and events are “manufactured into news” if they fit the news value system. Novelty, drama, personalization, human interest, timeliness, and conflict are the familiar components of the newsworthiness of an event. Competition for ratings and for advertising resources has increased news professionals’ craving for sensational events, scandals, crime, and sex stories.
In the political communication domain, media logic has been contrasted with “political logic” (Mazzoleni 1987), and seen as an engine of the “mediatization” of politics (Mazzoleni & Schulz 1999). Politics performed publicly has increasingly adapted to the canons of media discourse; successful politicians have to be media-genic and media savvy; personalized leadership has become more important than parties (and ideologies); election campaigns tend to be media-driven and spectacular; and voters get their image of politics and politicians from the media representation, which responds primarily to media logic. These trends are indicators also of an objective power of the media to shape political reality that politics and politicians can hardly resist.
- Altheide, D. L. (1985). Media power. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Altheide, D. L., & Snow, R. P. (1979). Media logic. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Altheide, D. L., & Snow, R. P. (1991). Media worlds in the postjournalism era. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Mazzoleni, G. (1987). Media logic and party logic in campaign coverage. European Journal of Communication, 2(1), 55 – 80.
- Mazzoleni, G., & Schulz, W. (1999). “Mediatization” of politics: A challenge for democracy? Political Communication, 16, 247 – 261.
- McQuail, D. (2005). McQuail’s mass communication theory, 5th edn. London: Sage.